Early doors on Saturday 20th July 2013. Final items of luggage and camping equipment loaded into the car, and I drove across town to pick up Jimmy's mate Edward 2E0NSR who was joining this Macclesfield IOTA/SOTA DXpedition to the Isle of Man (GD in amateur radio terms, and Islands on the Air - IOTA reference EU-116). Back across to the home QTH, and Jimmy M0HGY and Liam were added to the vehicle, and we set off across Cheshire, heading for the docks at Liverpool. As we passed Runcorn, we heard Mickey 2V0YYY/P activating Shining Tor G/SP-004. The three licensed members of the team - Jimmy M0HGY, Tom M1EYP and Ed 2E0NSR - each worked Mickey in turn for the first chaser points of the week.
The first job on the ferry was to order up a large cooked breakfast (of course). And a Wi-Fi voucher and a couple of beers (of course). The sailing was very smooth, and fast, reaching Douglas in just two and a half hours. The fine weather continued as we made our way, directed by Jimmy as usual, to the booked campsite at Union Mills, fairly close to the "centre" of the island. We pitched the four-man tent fairly centrally on the large field at the Glenlough campsite and went in search of our first SOTA points of the week.
Jimmy directed us to the south west of the island, close to the villages of Port St Mary and Port Erin, and then up the hill to a bit of a parking area by the start of the track up Mull Hill. Although it was now past 6pm, it was still very hot in glorious sunshine, so it was necessary to apply suncream and don sunhats. The walk up the track was very short and easy, but yet it was noted that the track was driveable and quite a few people would drive their cars up here to a higher parking area, from which the walk to the summit was no more than 100 yards.
The three WW2 pill boxes on the summit were explored, but only the one right at the true summit was worthy of further investigation. This one was clean inside and out, and wasn't obstructed with rubble or wood like the other two. We made a mental note that this pill box could be used later in the week to provide a sheltered activating spot if the weather turned. As it was, we set up all our aerials outside the pill box, and got on with some radio. I managed to get a contact into Tenerife on 12m SSB, so that secured the multiplier for the 12m SOTA Activator Challenge. However, nothing else was forthcoming on 24MHz, not even on PSK31 or CW, so I packed away that antenna and put up the 20m groundplane instead. A walker passing across the summit introduced himself as GD0VIK.
Meanwhile, Jimmy had made a good batch of contacts on 2m FM, and Edward and worked Spain using 40m SSB on his own FT-817 and antenna. Ed didn't get any more joy on HF however, so he plugged into Jimmy's aerial and made the rest of his quota using 2m FM. 20m CW proved fruitful for me, and 45 QSOs were added, including Japan, Israel, USA and Canada. I was packed up well ahead of Jimmy and Ed, so walked down to the car with Liam. From the car, just outside the activation zone, I worked Jimmy and Ed from the mobile radio. They were soon down with me, and we could go off in search of an evening meal.
This was when we discovered an inconvenient truth about the Isle of Man. Unlike the Mediterranean holiday resorts where dinner often starts at 8pm, this was when all the pubs closed their kitchens on this island! And the proprietors didn't seem up for any kind of negotiation either, not even with four hungry, thirsty paying customers wishing to avail themselves of their hospitality. So after a shower at the campsite, we drove down into Douglas for a curry. If in doubt, go for a curry!
So it was a fairly late night as we bedded down in our sleeping bags. It was very hot inside the tent, so it was difficult to get comfortable, but we did all get some sleep ahead of the following day's planned activation of South Barrule GD/GD-003.
Tuesday 23rd July 2013 didn't promise the best of weather until the late afternoon/early evening. In fact that suited us, because we were all ready for a rest and a lie-in after the previous day's exertions, and it was 6m contest night - so evening was the perfect time for an activation.
In the meantime, Jimmy and Liam were keen to see the place I used to live, albeit briefly, back in 1974. My dad entered into a business venture of running an electric organ shop in Ramsey. Sadly, the project didn't work out and the family was back in Macclesfield after ten weeks. But my mum has happy memories of living there, and Jimmy had been gleaning as much information as possible from her. As such, he had determination to locate the old family home and the site of the old organ shop.
After parking up in Ramsey, I realised I had left some stuff in the outer tent that I didn't really want leaving anywhere other than locked up in my car! I took the irritating decision to drive back to Glenlough campsite along the A18 mountain road. It was no great hardship to drive this beautiful route of TT race fame three times, and on one occasion the cloud had lifted as we passed the parking spot for Snaefell GD/GD-001. The summit cafe was clearly visible, and Liam remarked "That looks easy". My thoughts were "That looks steep", but I kept my gob shut and allowed Liam to retain his positivity. In fact it turned out that his assessment was much closer to the truth than mine anyway!
Back in Ramsey, we found the site of the old organ shop and took some photos. Then we located a fish & chip cafe for lunch, and as this cafe had an arcade in it, Liam got to play on a driving game. I challenged him to a game and got myself well and truly thrashed. After lunch it was time to try and find where I used to live. This was on Windsor Mount, and I had very vague recollections of the street. I had stronger memories of walking over the swing bridge with my mum, but little else.
Instead of a fourth drive over the A18 mountain road, we passed through the outskirts of Douglas and found the start/finish line of the main TT race. We did a spot of shopping for food and drink to take up Mull Hill with us for our supper, and headed for our second visit to GD/GD-005.
I got the 6m delta loop set up for the UKAC. Meanwhile, Jimmy had made several QSOs on 2m FM. Ed was playing the patient game again on 20m, and the patience paid off when he made a SSB QSO with OM8KT in Slovakia. It was the only contact he made on this evening, but it mattered not, for that single contact was enough for him to be able to record a SOTA activation, and no amount of QSOs would have scored any points having already activated this one a few days earlier.
It was soon apparent that the 6m band was wide open. This is not so helpful for a 5 watt portable station, but it was good fun to work some of the DX on CW and SSB. Overall I made 26 QSOs on 50MHz, 24 of which were within the contest period. My best DX was Sardinia, IS0BSR/P in JM49pi.
After packing away and getting back to the campsite, it was time to drift of to sleep again to the late night sounds of Manx Radio.
As well as being a radio amateur, Edward 2E0NSR is also a keen photographer. He took his good camera out on some of the summits, and he has kindly let me use some of the best shots on this website. One of my favourites is this moonlight shot taken on Mull Hill just before we left there on the Tuesday night.
Thursday 25th July 2013, and a slow lazy morning on the campsite for us as we enjoyed a bit of a lie in and generally late start. The previous day's activation of Snaefell GD/GD-001 itself was not particularly strenuous, but the day-after-day exertions and sleeping under canvas was catching up on us. The campsite was now dominated by the stock car racing fraternity who were here for a meeting at Onchan Raceway that night. I asked one of the team managers what the admission price would ne, knowing that Liam would love a stock car meeting, to which he replied "Just come and find me and my daughter at this camper van on the village green, and we'll sort you out". Sounded like a plan, and Liam's cheerful support and acceptance of all the SOTA thus far deserved to be rewarded.
But first, it was back to Mull Hill to try and work our friend Mickey 2E0YYY who still needed this summit in order to complete working all the GD hills S2S style. On this occasion, we all set up inside the summit pill box, except for Liam who took up his preferred spot just outside. We all managed to work Mickey, who was activating Shining Tor G/SP-004 on 40m SSB. We also heard him strongly on 2m FM as he was working a summit-to-summit contact into South Wales, but didn't manage to work him on that band.
It was mainly Ed using 40m, but using my 40m dipole on this occasion. Results were good and he racked up seven SSB contacts on that band. On 12m I failed to make any CW or PSK31 QSOs, but had a good run of twelve QSOs on SSB. This included a S2S with Martin OE5REO/P on Brandkogel OE/OO-322, which Jimmy and Ed also jumped on the 12m station to bag. I moved onto 40m adding a further ten QSOs to my log, half on CW and half on SSB. Meanwhile, Ed plugged into my 12m aerial and made five QSOs to add to his earlier 40m efforts. It was just two QSOs for Jimmy on 2m FM, a tally which he doubled with the two HF S2S contacts.
The next port of call was the Shore Hotel, Gansey. Richard GD8EXI had recommended this place to us when we called at his QTH on Monday evening. We were not disappointed, and I enjoyed by sea bream and pint of ale (see above). Further around the coast and on the way into Douglas it was deemed appropriate to get a couple of photos of the famous Fairy Bridge. Finally, it was onto Onchan, where we located the motorhome on the village green, which was doubling as the pit area for the meeting. As promised, we were all given pit pass wristbands and escorted into the stadium.
For a few years, the stock car meetings at Buxton Raceway have bored me senseless. I simply put up with them as a concession to Liam, as that is his great interest. As such, I was most pleasantly surprised with the very different style of racing on this tighter faster circuit at Onchan. There were spectacular multi-vehicle crashes in both the Brisca F2 stock cars and National Ministox races. In the latter, a teenage lad who was staying on the same campsite as us, suffered a big roll in his mini. Thankfully, none of the drivers were injured.
It was a very good race meeting, and Edward particularly enjoyed it. Liam, of course, loved every second of it, and I rather enjoyed the spectacle myself, especially the last couple of races under floodlights. Before retiring to the tent for the evening we went up to the Crosby for a late drink.
Friday 26th July 2013 was out last full day on the island, and it was a peach of a day. Therefore, at long last, it was time to hit the beach! As we were waiting to set off, Liam blagged a photo opportunity in one of the Ministox cars on the campsite. Liam, being a 6 foot 2 inches bloke faced a serious challenge to get in and out of the vehicle - through the window!
The beach at Peel was lovely, and the weather held beautifully. We all applied generous helpings of high factor suncream, and Liam, Ed and myself went for a swim. Even after such a long spell of warm weather, the Irish Sea was icy cold, so getting fully in took some time! And I considered that 15 minutes of swimming time was more than enough to be subject to that sea. We soon warmed up and dried off, and I sat back on the beach and read the newspaper.
Now it was time for lunch, which for me was battered Manx queenies (little scallops), a battered black pudding and chips. I then advised the lads that we were going back up Mull Hill for the afternoon activity. This didn't go down too well initially, but we had nothing else to do! As it turned out, Jimmy had a fruitful 2m FM activation of 15 contacts, while Ed made four on 20m SSB - but four of real quality, all in different DXCCs. He was understandably delighted with Charles AE4FZ in North Carolina, but for me his most notable contact was the remarkable callsign YO1000LEANY, celebrating the "The Day of Thousand Szekely Girls" folk festival. I tried 40m CW but found it pretty slow going with just 13 QSOs.
The evening was a tale of two pubs. First, we returned to the Railway at Union Mills in order to have another taste of the lovely house special dish of Manx queenies in fresh cream and bacon sauce. Yes, it was the second time in the day I had eaten Manx queenies, but also probably the last time for some time! Then we switched over to the Crosby - in Crosby - where we enjoyed a relaxed pint, use of the pub's free Wi-Fi, and a couple of games of pool. Jimmy played Liam in possibly the worst game of pool ever played...
Well that should have been that, but I was awake early on our last morning of Saturday 27th July 2013. As such, I left the three "sleeping beauties" in their sleeping bags and went to treat myself to an early morning activation of Mull Hill. Prior to setting off, I deposited Jimmy's and Ed's hand-portables in the tent in case they got chance to work me before I left the summit. I set up for a straightforward 20m CW activation. Without use of Jimmy for updated spots - my 'phone wasn't working at all in the Isle of Man - I decided that PSK31 or SSB would stand little chance of success. So I simply alerted my activation using the campsite Wi-Fi before setting off, and stuck to my plan of 14MHz CW.
The weather didn't demand I did so, but for some reason I chose to do a "stand up" activation from inside the pill box. Using just 20m CW meant that I could ignore the FT-817 and just use the lovely Youkits HB1B rig. I clocked up 18 QSOs in not many more minutes, but then realised I needed to be making tracks as we had a tent to pack up and a ferry to catch. I called CQ on the 2m FM handie, but Jimmy and Edward were not monitoring. A station in North Wales was calling CQ, but he wasn't hearing my replies. After returning to the car, I called him again with the 50 watts of the mobile rig, and this time got through, resulting in a pleasant chat as I drove down towards Gansey.
After unpitching the tent and driving into Douglas, there was plenty of slack time before the ferry was boarding, so we walked into the town and into a cafe that Ed recommended from a previous visit. Fed and watered, we walked back to the ferry terminal, where the gate had now opened and we could join the queue for boarding. This was when Liam spotted a TVR convertible and sweet-talked his way into a photo opportunity!
The return ferry crossing was even smoother than the outbound sailing seven days earlier. I bought some kippers and Manx cheeses from the on-board shop as suitable souvenirs, and spent the rest of the time relaxing in the lounge with a beer and the Wi-Fi.
Sailing into Liverpool gave a striking view of the Caribbean Princess cruise ship moored under the Liver Birds. We were soon back on terra firma and driving down the motorways back to Macclesfield. It had been a very successful, and ultimately well executed DXpedition.
Some summary statistics from the
Macclesfield IOM SOTA DXpedition: